SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched the heaviest mission to date this week. "Falcon 9 launches to orbit 56 Starlink satellites—weighing in total more than 17.4 metric tons—marking the heaviest payload ever flown on Falcon," announced SpaceX on January 26. A previously-flown Falcon 9 lifted off from Launch Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 4:32 a.m. ET on Thursday. The mission is identified as ‘Starlink 5-2’ which deployed a total of 56 satellites to orbit that likely belong to SpaceX’s second-generation (Gen2) Starlink satellites. These are much heavier than the first-generation because they feature upgraded hardware to enhance the internet network’s capabilities. Each satellite launched on this mission weighs around a quarter-ton, future iterations of the upgraded satellites are expected to be much heavier and require to be launched by SpaceX's Starship when it is operational.
It is the second fleet of upgraded satellites ever deployed, the first hefty batch of 54 Gen2 satellites was launched on December 28, 2022. “This launch marked the first of Starlink’s upgraded network. Under our new license, we are now able to deploy satellites to new orbits that will add even more capacity to the network. Ultimately, this enables us to add more customers and provide faster service – particularly in areas that are currently over-subscribed,” stated SpaceX last month. The company has not yet released elaborate details about what type of hardware is on these first two sets of upgraded satellites.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/nLJdSIiPZZ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 26, 2023
Falcon 9 launches to orbit 56 Starlink satellites—weighing in total more than 17.4 metric tons—marking the heaviest payload ever flown on Falcon pic.twitter.com/qrgjnm6tUQ— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 26, 2023
Approximately 8-minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 first-stage booster returned from orbit with a propulsive landing on SpaceX’s ‘Just Read the Instructions’ autonomous droneship at the Atlantic Ocean. It marked the ninth flight and landing of the booster identified as B1067-9. To date, SpaceX has landed a total of 167 orbital-class rockets and has reused boosters 140 times. The rocket that supported the Starlink 5-2 mission previously launched: SpaceX’s 22nd NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-22) mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2021. Then it launched SpaceX’s third operational NASA astronaut flight to ISS (Crew-3), followed by the Turksat 5B mission, Crew-4, CRS-25, the Eutelsat HOTBIRD 13G satellite, the mPOWER-a mission, and now two Starlink missions. Recovering Falcon 9 first-stage boosters to reuse significantly reduces the cost of spaceflight and enables the company to perform frequent missions.
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship pic.twitter.com/Es18PGOMsm— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 26, 2023
The 56 Starlink satellites were deployed nearly 20 minutes after liftoff. Falcon 9’s upper-stage guidance computer released the satellites into an elliptical orbit at an inclination of 43 degrees to the equator, with an altitude between 212 to 337 kilometers. In the days ahead, the 56 Starlink satellites will each use their onboard ion thrusters to move into their operational orbit. According to data compiled by Astronomer Jonathan McDowell, SpaceX now operates 3,481 Starlink satellites in Low Earth Orbit. The company already provides high-speed Starlink internet to over one million customers globally.
On December 1st, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave SpaceX authorization to launch up to 7,500 second-generation (Gen2) Starlink satellites to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). These satellites are part of the Starlink Gen2 system designed to increase the broadband constellation’s capabilities and provide robust coverage with enhanced features, including: an inter-satellite laser-link communications system, and antennas capable of beaming data directly to smartphones. The capability will be collaborative work between SpaceX and T-Mobile to provide satellite-to-cellular voice and SMS services in 2023.
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Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.